Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Top Five Books #3: Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal?

advice from Jeannette Winterson, via dailyfig.figment.com

First of all, I should say Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

And now onto my next mini book review --

I'm a big memoir reader -- I plow through them like dark chocolate and potato chips -- and after a while, one confessional runs into the next, another story of incredible survival, demented parents, religious conversion, and serial adultery. I read so many memoirs that I bought a Kindle to better contain them, ease my spending and make more room in my library for the literature I really love. But occasionally, a memoir reads like literature, is, in fact, literature -- Mark Doty's Heaven's Coast, comes to mind, and Ian Brown's The Boy in the Moon -- and this year, I liked Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeannette Winterson the best of all the memoirs I read. It's a book about language and literature and the necessity of art and reading. It's about deep trauma and sexual identity and mothering and love. It is wise and funny, horrifying and incredibly sad. When I heard Winterson talking about it on some radio show, I was drawn to her speaking voice and cadence, and while reading the book, I heard it in every word. I also couldn't resist a book with that title -- a question asked of Winterson by her painfully inept adoptive mother.

I believe in fiction and the power of stories because that way we speak in tongues. We are not silenced. All of us, when in deep trauma, find we hesitate, we stammer; there are long pauses in our speech. The thing is stuck. We get our language back through the language of others. We can turn to the poem. We can open the book. Somebody has been there for us and deep-dived the words.
Jeannette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? 


  1. Good Lord, I love that quote. Her book is already on my Books To Read list but it just skyrocketed to the top.

  2. Speaking as one of your "lurkers", I read everything you post and am, nine and a half times out of ten, incredibly moved by your writing (especially your "How We Do It" posts). I agree with your political posts 100%.
    I rarely post comments because of feeling so inadequate and inarticulate in the face of your profound articulate-ness.
    Be encouraged. And may you be blessed beyond measure in 2013.

  3. Another one I'm writing down. Thanks for doing all this scut-work for us, Dear Elizabeth!

  4. I am a memoir addict as well. I started reading this earlier in the year, in hardcover, and stopped--because it was so incredible, and so thought provoking, that I wanted to wait for it to come out in paperback so I could underline it and read it like some people read scripture. Right now I'm reading Mary Karr's "Lit" much the same way. One of my favorite memoirs of all time is "Don't Let's Go To The Dogs Tonight", about a family living in Rhodesia during the Rhodesian civil war.

  5. i LOVE LOVE LOVE memoirs as well. I will be sure to read this one! thanks for the review!

  6. Happy New Year. Yes, I love the quote. How often I have been saved, or made whole by reading someone's words.

  7. I first heard of Jeannette Winterson when I saw the tv-series based on "Oranges are not the only fruit", her semi-autobiographical debut from 1985(she adapted the novel for it herself). Some of the scenes were etched on my heart and I remember them as if I saw them yesterday. It's not hard to imagine that her autobiography is equally unforgettable.

  8. Happy New Year to you and yours! :-)

    Greetings from London.

  9. i think i will order this one on my kindle tonight. thank you and happy new year to your beautiful soulful family.



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